Today is the birthday of one of my science heroes: Carl Linnaeus. Born on May 23, 1707, the Swede turned natural history from a hobby into a science with his masterful systemization and documentation of what had until then been haphazard classification of plants, animals and fungi.
In honor of Linnaeus, the International Institute for Species Exploration at the State University of New York’s College of Environmental Science and Forestry created a Top 10 New Species List they issue every year on or around this day. This year, I covered the list for National Geographic Daily News; you can read my story here.
There were many beautiful images of the new species that were not used with the story, so I’d like to share a few of them with you here.
I’d covered one species on the list before at this blog, the “pugnacious, alien-esque” skeleton shrimp Liropus minusculus:
I didn’t write much about Penicillium vanoranjei in my Nat Geo article. That was because there wasn’t really much to say. But it is orange — quite brilliantly so — and the images of it were extraordinary. Here it is in on one laboratory medium in a Petri dish all its Creamsicle glory:
And here are scanning electron microscope images of its asexual spore making structures, also called conidiophores. They are the long stalks sporting a crown of spores. The dark and mysterious thicket in the background is the filamentous body of the mold.
Here is a close-up of the conidiophore and conidia (spores). Note how the surface texture gets increasingly rugged as the spores mature. They look a little like children’s pop beads sitting atop bowling pins. Those little attachments between spores, the authors of the paper describing this new species noted, are one reason the spores aren’t as prone to flying off the conidiophores as they are in other species of Penicillium, and is probably how they were able to get such a nice SEM image.
In case you are wondering, this is the same fungal group that produced the first antibiotic, penicillin.
This is the new Cape Melville leaf-tailed gecko, Saltuarius eximius. It lives in and around boulders in an isolated rainforest in a remote part of Australia. For some reason, it reminds me of a Chinese demon — I think it’s the large, fierce, bulging eyes.
And here it is from above. You can see how it got its name and how its fat, flat tail and skinny body blends in with the lichens on its rocky habitat.
Also on this year’s top 10 list is a giant protist called an agglutinated foraminifer – Spiculosiphon oceana – that builds what appears to be a somewhat dopey-looking, glued-together carnivorous sponge Halloween costume. At left is real carnivorous glass sponge, Asbestopluma hypogea. The agglutinated foram S. oceana at right. Notice that the real glass sponge has nabbed a small copepod on one of its left spines.
“Look Mom! Check out my real spines!”
Keep in mind that the organism that built this 2-inch tall microbial skyscraper is a gigantic single-celled organism. The reason Spiculosiphon is able to build so high and do such a good glass sponge impression is that it’s glued its skeleton together with what the decorating crowd would call “found objects”: actual silica spicules from which sponges construct their own homes. Waste not, I suppose. From its stabby tower of power, it captures food and oozes out to feed on it through chinks in its DIY superstructure.
To me, Tinkerbella nana is a tad on the nauseating side as scientific names go. Especially when you consider that the fairyfly that bears this new name is a merciless parasite of insect eggs. Nonetheless, it is an extraordinary creature with, as I described at Nat Geo, wings that appear to be made of “eyelashes glued to Q-tips” that look to me like they would be hard-pressed to lift a dust mote. On the other hand, at just 250 micrometers long, there are standard amoebas larger than this insect. Spiculosiphon is 160 times as large.
Finally, we have a closeup of Zospeum tholussum, a transparent snail discovered in a half-mile deep in a cave in Croatia that rips right along at a rate of a few millimeters or centimeters per week. I’m guessing here, but that coiled brown structure inside the shell looks like a gut or rectum to me. This would be tremendously embarrassing for the snail were it not for the fact it lives in profound darkness.
The scientists called this sculpted sediment a “grazing-labyrinth-like structure”. I think that means the snails may wander around in this thing feeding on whatever it is that snails 3,000 feet underground eat (souls?). All the shells in this image have been vacated.
I am glad that I do not have to feed in a “grazing-labyrinth”, but I am glad that someone on Earth does. It’s awesome.